London in December is a groaning, booming monster, restive beneath layers of intense cold, night-fall at four, and smoke-darkened Victorian brick. The air is metropolis-blue, an odd fusion of diesel fumes and incandescent light. But for me, walking around Mecklenburgh Square, where I was still living that December, old London was radiant, streaming with bright future, my future. The world had just become my oyster, the globe my stage, the planet mine.
I had just left University College London for the last time, bidding farewell to the bones of Jeremy Bentham in their glass case at the portico, clutching my post-grad international law degree. Earlier, I had lunched on salmon, turkey and Stilton in the oak-panelled boardroom of Norton, Rose, Botterill and Roche, a major law firm. They liked me, they said, mentioning a 'lavish starting salary.' When could I start?
Canterbury University had offered a post on the threshold of senior lecturer and pay to match, unexpected but welcome to an ageing student of 28. When could I accept?
And that morning, Foreign Affairs in Wellington had offered a diplomatic slot. When would I return?
My plans for simultaneous career offers fulfilled, I fairly hugged myself with joy, pacing along, delighting in the flow of power that surges when the keys to the city nestle in your palm.
I paced jauntily, switched suddenly to measured steps, then slowed, stopped, stirred, then stopped again, unable to move, my mind turning. My feet locked onto the huge London flagstones, the keys to the city vanished. When could I start? When could I accept? When would I return? Before my eyes, glory turned to inky dust in the darkness and cold of a London winter evening.
Some time later, high over frozen, white North America, I awoke from dozing, divided, my heart moving forward and my soul looking back.